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Maimed priest seeks to help people heal from suffering: Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper on Saturday, June 9.

12 June 2012
Maimed priest seeks to help people heal from suffering: Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper on Saturday, June 9.

The Rev. Michael Lapsley, founder of the Institute for Healing of Memories, held workshops Friday at Salvation Army Family Treatment Services in Kaimuki for female prisoners and those in drug treatment. Lapsley was thanked by several clients, including Tammy Picanco-Antonio, left, and Raeann South.

The Rev. Michael Lapsley once fought to free South Africans from the racism of apartheid. Now he is a wounded healer trying to help nations and individuals find freedom from their tragic pasts.

It has been 22 years since a letter bomb meant to kill the Anglican priest and activist destroyed his hands and an eye but not his soul, Lapsley said in an interview. The loss of his hands still grieves him every day, but people open up because they realize he can identify with their pain — "the sharing of pain connects us at the deepest level," he said.

Lapsley is in Honolulu for workshops and speaking engagements through the Institute for Healing of Memories, with local sponsorship by Church of the Crossroads.

He founded the institute in 1998 to help citizens of nations attempting to recover from generations of violence and oppression. The institute has grown into a global ministry for people of all cultures and faiths.

"Some people can be locked in moments of history, their life experiences are so overwhelming, " said Lapsley, who was maimed in 1990 by a letter bomb sent by pro-apartheid forces in South Africa. "People often wait for a safe place which enables them to be vulnerable without judgment. They can wait for decades, but when that happens, that's the key turning point in the journey of healing."

In his recently published book, "Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer," Lapsley writes, "Now I am a healer and I work to free people from being prisoners of the past, to free them from being prisoners of a moment in time, and to allow them ... to be free to create and shape their world. ... Unless we bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted, we cannot hope to create a just and durable society where everyone has a place in the sun, for the victims of the past too easily become the victimizers of the future."

Four years ago Linda Rich and Liz Nelson, members of Church of the Crossroads, believed in Lapsley's work strongly enough to become trained facilitators of his workshops. Rich, who is also executive director of Salvation Army Family Treatment Services, said Lapsley is meeting this year with female inmates in work furlough and women recovering from drug addiction, two groups served by her agency.

"The workshop will not be a quick, magic cure, but for some it will be an important step toward healing and letting go of negative emotions and beliefs that block growth," Rich said.

At workshops held by the institute and Church of the Crossroads the past two years at the Women's Community Correctional Center, many of the prisoners acknowledged feeling the hurt, anger and resentment that perpetuated the multigenerational cycles of trauma in their families, and how "the victims often become victimizers," Rich said.

"There is a lot of pain to be healed in these islands," Rich said. "Some of it comes from our history. We are all affected, whether we realize it or not, by the overthrow and colonization of the Hawaiian nation and all the loss that has involved for Hawaiians. We see the effects in so many social and health issues.

"Then there is the immigrant experience, the plantation years, the war experience and internment camps. We have so many veterans who served proudly but have been emotionally and spiritually wounded in action."

Lapsley said people sometimes "choose to live as victims. Somehow being a victim has some kind of negative power over other people. They say, 'Don't you ever forget what was done to me.' That's a temptation. Sometimes people prefer the negative power than to becoming a free human being.

"All people are capable of being the victim and victimizer at the same time, but we've found the healing of memories can break that cycle. Most people I've met in prison who have done terrible things had terrible things done to them. I've discovered people haven't always made the connections," he said.

The workshops are meant to help those who don't require clinical intervention, he said. For deeper healing to occur, people need to be part of a supportive community with positive role models to help them establish new patterns of behavior, he said.

In his book Lapsley writes that workshops are concluded with meaningful ceremonies, often secular, but that the liturgy of a particular faith can be used to create a profound rite of passage to a new way of life. While it does not depend on Christian theology, an inherent part of Healing of Memories is the idea of Jesus being a "wounded healer" who triumphed over crucifixion and death with his resurrection.

"The victim triumphs not by becoming a victimizer of others but rather by becoming fully himself or herself," Lapsley writes.

About Us

The Institute for the Healing of Memories seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. Our work is grounded in the belief that we are all in need of healing, because of what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.

Contact Us

  • Institute for Healing of Memories
    5 Eastry Road, Claremont,
    Cape Town, 7708, South Africa

  • +27 21 683 6231